Friday, January 13, 2012

And For What Has Christ Come and for What Has He Died?

Is this why Christ died hanging on the cross or is this
about an ego having lost all touch with reality?
 We have been talking about the Founding Fathers and if their support could be invoked for the United States being a “Christian Nation” or as Virginia Blogger Barbara Curtis of Mommy Life put it: a “Judeo Christian Nation.”  Ms. Curtis writes her blog on a variety of topics, some of which she actually seems to know something about.  American History, however, is a field in which she could afford to take a course or two at her local community college.  We have looked at founding fathers Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington whose public stances would not lend credence to her claims for our being a Christian Nation, or even a Judeo-Christian one.  On the other hand, Sam Adams—ironically one of the most radical of the Founding Fathers—and Catholic Charles Carroll, one of the most conservative, would probably support her claim.  Carroll’s cousin John, the first Catholic Bishop in the new American Republic, and the larger Maryland Catholic tradition is harder to read.  Maryland Catholics had a conservative view of society.  They were, for the most part, monied and landed people.  They belonged to the Federalist Party, suspicious of Jefferson’s Republicans—who, despite their name, are the forerunners of today’s Democrats.  They were not given to the religious skepticism of Franklin or Jefferson or even the discreet unorthodoxy of Washington.  Yet, having been a disadvantaged minority, they strongly favored religious liberty for all of whatever belief.  They did not agitate for Catholicism to be given a privileged position and no writing survives that would suggest that they saw Maryland or the new Republic as officially “Christian.”  On the other hand, there were in those days few who were not, at least in the broadest of the word “Christians.”  A synagogue for Baltimore would only be organized in the 1830’s.  Whatever their vision of the place of religion in society, Maryland Catholics probably would have held aloof from the Christmas crèche on the Loudon County Courthouse lawn that triggered Ms. Curtis’s pompous pronouncement.  Religion was not a public affair in the recusant tradition.  So we will go on to other founding fathers.  We still need to look at James Madison who is particularly key as he is the basic architect of the Constitution and we also want to look at his fellow Virginian, Patrick Henry who will round out the cast of characters.  But that is for tomorrow—or the next day or whenever I get around to it.   Today I want to share some reflections that the first reading at Mass this morning raised for me. 
     It was the story of Samuel and the Israelites squabbling over a monarchy. You know the story.  (Or, if you don’t, you can find it in 1 Samuel, chapter 8.)  The people of Israel decide that they want a king like other nations.  The people had decided that God wasn’t quite cutting it as king.  He isn’t visible enough in times of war.  They want the trappings of an earthly king.  Samuel warns them of the price: Kings require taxes and they live in palaces with servants.  Daughters will have to become ointment makers and cooks; sons will have to be footmen and soldiers.  The people are going to have to shell out to keep a king in style—you know: palaces, crowns, liveried servants, etc. 
      What struck me was—and this is one of the reasons that I write this blog—why isn’t Christ enough for us?  Why do we need Swiss Guards and Nuncios and Vatican dicasteries?  Why do we need monsignors in their purples and bishops with their miters, and Eminences and Excelencies, and the kissing of rings and the bending of knees?  Now I am not saying that we don’t need the Petrine Ministry and a worthy Servus Servorum Dei to fill it, or that we don’t need Pastors who have the heart of the Good Shepherd to lead the Church.  (And by Pastors here I mean bishops.)  I believe Christ established a community of his followers and that he commissioned the Twelve (or at least the Eleven who remained faithful) to guide it in faithfulness to the Good News of God’s Kingdom as he preached it.  And I am not a strict constructionist of the New Testament.  I am amused with some of my Campbellite friends who insist that if there is not an explicit warrant for something in the New Testament you can’t do it. (One friend of mine who is a Church of Christ Pastor makes me laugh when he says that his deacons won’t allow lighted candles on the communion table as there is no warrant for them in the New Testament but that they have no problem flipping on the light switch.)  But I do think at times, indeed often, that we Catholics have allowed the human trappings to overshadow and even usurp the precedence of the Divinely ordered mission of the Church.  I’m sorry but the preaching of Good News to the Poor, of granting sight to the blind, freedom to captives, and announcing a time of God’s Favor is why we are here not to conduct self-aggrandizing ceremonies that exalt one or another of us over others.  Now I know that I have said that I don’t intend to get into theology and that I want to stick right to history and that when you start talking about Christ and his intentions for his disciples you cross the line from history into theology and I know I have crossed that line, but don’t even tell me theologically that the Grace of God is given us for pompous ceremonial that may have been fitting for medieval princes but is totally out of place in a world where more than half the population has no or insufficient access to safe water, where millions of children have been orphaned by AIDS, where famine is rampant, and where 5% of the population controls 90% of the resources.  Far from being the light of the world, we run the risk of being a scandal when we are more concerned about the trappings of office than the mission given us by our Savior.  So history and theology meet where justice and peace kiss and history can help theology sort out what is essential and what is charade.

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